More than 100,000 evacuated as cyclone threatens India and Pakistan
More than 100,000 people have been evacuated from the path of a fierce cyclone heading towards India and Pakistan, with forecasters warning on Wednesday it could devastate homes and tear down power lines.
Biparjoy, meaning "disaster" in Bengali, is making its way across the Arabian Sea and is expected to make landfall as a "very severe cyclonic storm" on Thursday evening, government weather monitors said.
Powerful winds, storm surges and lashing rains were forecast to hammer a 325-kilometre (200-mile) stretch of coast between Mandvi in India's Gujarat state and Karachi in Pakistan.
India's Meteorological Department predicted the storm will hit near the Indian port of Jakhau late on Thursday, warning of "total destruction" of traditional mud and straw thatched homes.
At sea, winds were already gusting at speeds up to 180 kilometres per hour (112 miles per hour), forecasters said.
By the time it makes landfall wind speeds are predicted to reach 125-135 kilometres per hour, with gusts up to 150 kilometres per hour.
"Over 47,000 people have been evacuated from coastal and low-lying areas to shelter," said C.C. Patel, an official in charge of relief operations in Gujarat.
More were expected to be moved inland throughout Wednesday.
India's meteorologists warned of the potential for "widespread damage", including destruction of crops, "bending or uprooting of power and communication poles" and disruption of railways and roads.
In the beach town of Mandvi, streets were mostly empty on Wednesday with just a few hungry stray dogs roaming abandoned beach shacks, next to large, rolling waves under strong gusts and grey skies.
The Gujarat state government released photos showing lines of residents clutching small bags of belongings and boarding buses inland away from areas predicted to be worst hit.
'High to phenomenal'
Pakistan's Climate Change Minister Sherry Rehman said that 62,000 people had been evacuated from the country's southeastern coastline, with 75 relief camps set up at schools and colleges.
She said fishermen had been warned to stay off the water and small aircraft were grounded, while urban flooding was possible in the megacity of Karachi, home to around 20 million people.
"We are following a policy of caution rather than wait and see," she told reporters in Islamabad. "Our first priority is saving lives."
The Pakistan Meteorological Department forecast gusts up to 140 kilometres per hour in the southeastern province of Sindh, accompanied by a storm surge reaching 3.5 metres (11.5 feet).
Fishing has also been suspended along the Gujarat coast with conditions expected to escalate from "rough to very rough" on Wednesday to "high to phenomenal."
"There could be flooding in some low-lying areas and we are prepared to handle that," Mohsen Shahedi, a senior official from India's National Disaster Response Force, told reporters.
Seven people have already been killed in India including two children who were crushed when a wall collapsed, while a woman was hit by a falling tree when riding a motorbike.
Cyclones — the equivalent of hurricanes in the North Atlantic or typhoons in the Northwest Pacific — are a regular and deadly menace on the coast of the northern Indian Ocean, where tens of millions of people live.
Scientists have warned that storms are becoming more powerful as the world gets warmer with climate change.